Last week, I totally lost it.
I came home from the grocery store to unload my bags in a kitchen I had just cleaned an hour ago, in response to the mess that was apparently made after I went to sleep the night before.
Instead of the clean kitchen I was expecting, however, I was faced with a mixture of shredded cabbage and carrots all over the floor and a white film covering the counters where a bag of flour had been torn open. All of this was a result of my oldest daughter being right in the middle of a dumpling-making activity she’d seen on TikTok.
I had to unload the groceries in a wrecked kitchen, come up with a plan for cleaning it up while estimating the amount of work minutes I’d have to sacrifice to get that done, figure out how to do it with the quarantine homeschooling I now have to supervise, and summon the strength to praise my daughter for her creativity and enthusiasm for cooking — all while trying to pretend I didn’t want to rip someone’s face off.
But I just said I’d lost it, didn’t I? Well, believe it or not, none of that was why I snapped. It’s what happened after that.
When I was alone cleaning my kitchen, I felt so seriously overwhelmed that I could barely think straight. A flood of thoughts raced across my mind.
How am I supposed to get all this done? I don’t have time for this. I’m so tired of doing everything by myself. I have a full-time job, and now I’m homeschooling. I’m exhausted and I’m sick of cleaning up after everyone. Those kids are on my last nerve. I just want to be alone. I need a break.
What is the matter with you? Your kids are only going to be in this house for a few more years, and you’re going to waste that time being pissed off about a messy kitchen. What kind of mom gets upset about that, anyway? All you do is work. You never do anything fun with them. There are women who’d be grateful to have the life you have. You should be ashamed.
And that’s when I lost it. Somewhere in between feeling overwhelmed . . . and feeling bad that I felt that way.
I actually burst into tears and cried for about ten straight minutes. And you know what? It felt really good.
The real problem wasn’t that I was stressed out and overloaded. The problem was that I wasn’t allowing myself to express it. I was shaming myself for the feelings and then shoving them down.
Why do we do this? Why do we shove our feelings down to the point of having a breakdown? Why do we feel like can’t ask for help? Why do we feel like we’re not allowed to feel frustrated or say we’ve had enough?
There’s so much unexpressed pain we as women carry around. And it all comes from the need to be perfect.
There’s tremendous pressure for women to be perfect – to be everything to everyone, all the time. We feel like we have to be the perfect mom, the perfect wife, the hardest-working employee, the most thoughtful friend, the most dedicated volunteer.
And of course, while we’re killing ourselves to be all these things, we’re supposed to look perfect, too.
This is where the whole thing boils over. The mental and emotional burden of constantly trying to measure up to the perfection standard and coming up short is like a cancer that spreads silently across our minds, preventing us from being fully present in our moments and experiencing true joy in our lives. It’s the gasoline on the fire of our already-stressful lives.
When we feel like we have to effortlessly live up to all these societal standards and look perfect while we do it, the stress is almost unmanageable. But women everywhere do a really good job of not just managing it, but also pretending like they’re not about to explode.
And a lot of the time we don’t get to the explosion part. We numb out with a glass of wine or a Xanax, we shove down some cookies, we do some online shopping, or we call someone to talk about how bad someone else’s life looks.
Maybe if we allowed ourselves to say I don’t feel like it, I don’t want to, or I’m not going to, it wouldn’t get to that place. Maybe if we just simply said “No” a lot more often – without explaining ourselves or defending ourselves – a lot of the problems we have wouldn’t even exist.
Maybe if we just took care of ourselves first instead of being martyrs for everyone else, we wouldn’t feel so pissed off, irritated, or enraged in the first place. And if we allowed ourselves to feel that way without shaming ourselves for the feelings, we wouldn’t need to binge eat or binge drink or neutralize all those feelings we shove down. And maybe if we allowed ourselves to express those feelings more often, they wouldn’t build to the point of a total breakdown.
So, I want you to stop feeling bad for your feelings. I want you to stop hiding the way that you feel. I want you to stop shoving it all down with food. And I want you to be nice to yourself.
Oh, and by the way, you’re allowed to be irritated and frustrated, even if you live in a million-dollar house.
You’re allowed to be sick of your kids – even if you don’t work and you only have one kid.
You’re allowed to feel overwhelmed by your to-do list, even if you have full-time help.
You’re allowed to feel wronged, hurt, angry, and resentful sometimes. You’re allowed to cry. You’re allowed to acknowledge all the bad things that happened to you when you were little. You’re allowed to feel like shit about your life sometimes, even if there are people starving somewhere, the ice caps are melting, and there’s a deadly virus circling the globe.
Because the only way we’ll solve all those problems is if we learn how to take care of ourselves first. And we can’t do that as long as we’re holding it all in, shoving it all down, acting like everything’s fine.
You’re allowed to stop pretending it’s all ok. You’re allowed to express all your feelings, good and bad. You’re allowed to stop trying to be everything for everybody.
You’re allowed to not be perfect. You’re allowed to be you.